- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2008

Hundreds of Pakistani families have fled into Afghanistan and are staying with friends and relatives in an attempt to escape the growing violence in their own country, U.S. military officials and Afghan leaders said yesterday.

Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, told reporters that despite the continued crisis in Pakistan there has not been “a significant threat emerging” in his region.

“There were some — about 300 or 400 families that the governor took in in Khost and did a pretty good program to integrate them back into the communities,” said Col. Schweitzer, who was with his unit in eastern Afghanistan’s Khost province and spoke to reporters at the Pentagon during a joint video conference with Arsallah Jamal, the governor of Khost province.

Mr. Jamal confirmed that the refugees are staying with Afghan families, and not in refugee camps in Afghanistan. The fleeing families were once refugees in Pakistan, he added.

Col. Schweitzer stated, however, that eastern Afghanistan has seen significant improvements over the past year with a 40 percent decrease in “direct fire” and other threat activities throughout all the eastern districts and a 70 percent decrease in Khost.

“Khost was a more secure and safe place to live compared with 2006 and the years before,” Col. Schweitzer said.

He added that in 2007, the once violence-racked Khost province had received six times more funding for development and assisting its residents than in the past.

Those improvements and the current strides in local government have created a chain reaction, where citizens in the province are seeking more “help and assistance,” leading to enhanced Afghan leadership and Afghan ownership, he said.

“Both the coalition and Afghan security forces and civil administration worked towards better understanding, coordination, cooperation, which reduced civilian casualties in the provinces,” Col. Schweitzer said.

He added that the current improvements in Afghanistan are significant compared with 2002, when “Afghanistan had no president, no parliament, no ministries, one Afghan battalion, no police, no border police, two provincial governors out of 34, and no district governors.”

This week, however, roadside bombs and fighting lead to the deaths of 19 persons, including 14 Taliban fighters, officials said yesterday. Also, eight suspected Taliban fighters were killed Tuesday in southern Afghanistan, and a roadside bomb in Khost province killed two Afghan security guards working for a U.S. military base, the Afghan Defense Ministry said.

Despite improvements made in Afghanistan, more than 6,500 people were killed in fighting in the region, according to an Associated Press count, which is based on figures from Western and Afghan officials.

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